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By Hyeyoon Sung

Why are Japanese people so crazy about Halloween? When Halloween is near, you can easily spot people dressed up as witches, maids, vampires, and perhaps something even more wild and eye-catching in the streets of Shibuya. It is quite a sight to see young people, possibly in their 20s walking around wearing bizarre costumes.

Image by jomudo (Flickr).

Image by jomudo (Flickr).

But once again the question arises. Why is Halloween, originally a Western event, so popular in Tokyo? In Korea, no one is interested in Halloween enough to go through the trouble of dressing up. The only traces of Halloween you can find is in parades in several amusement parks, so I was very surprised to find Halloween so popular here. Perhaps the reason Halloween could easily mix into the Japanese culture is because the cosplaying culture is already a common occurrence and also because some Japanese people have a very unique sense of fashion.

Furthermore, I was even more amazed at the fact that Halloween is celebrated more by college students than by small children. In Western cultures Halloween not only symbolizes a day for teens and young adults to party, but it is also a day for young children to go Trick-or-Treating. However, in Japan, Trick-or-Treating children are hard to find, while the relatively older people have all the fun. People often point out that it may be because Tokyo is a big city and apartments are more common than small houses. Unlike many Western neighborhoods with houses which allow for a very intimate atmosphere, people living in apartments have more privacy and might feel a bit more segregated; sometimes to the extremes of not even knowing who lives next door. Under situations like these, it may not be exactly convenient nor appropriate for children to start going about asking for candy. Though I do believe this also is a factor that contributed to the scarcity of Trick-or-Treating, I think this phenomenon is has more to do with the circumstances under which Halloween first started.

Halloween was introduced to Japan much later around the start of the 21st century as a Western festival. For people living in countries like the USA, Halloween might be considered a natural part of their culture in which children go around asking for candy. But for the Japanese, perhaps Halloween is still more of an unfamiliar yet exciting event that originates from a faraway country. When people from a certain cultural background embrace a cultural element alien to them, they go through a process of selecting which facet of the new culture to accept, and how to fit it into their existing lifestyle. It was not until recently that Halloween became known to the people, so it is not yet entirely part of their daily, no, yearly life. Maybe that could explain why people in their twenties enjoy it as a special, one-time occasion more often than any other age group.

Regardless of why Halloween is so loved by the young Japanese population, I believe this is a good way of having fun and enjoying oneself. So next year, when Halloween comes, don’t be afraid to dress up and have fun!

Hyeyoon is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.

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2 thoughts on “Halloween in Japan

  1. I think you are right on in your assessment of Halloween’s appearance in Japan being related to Cosplay and fashion. It’s rise in Japan seems to be keeping pace with North America’s growing obsession with Cosplay and Fandom. I’m an anthropologist and I’d love to write a book on it. How did you become interested in this subjec and writing about it in January?

    • When I started writing this, it was around November when all the Halloween events had just ended. I thought it might be a good topic to write about, though I didn’t expect this to take me so long to get done.
      Though I’m Korean, I lived in the States when I was younger so that’s where I initially picked up a feel for what Halloween is like. Currently, I am studying abroad in Tokyo and around the time I arrived here, it was nearing Halloween and the streets went crazy. I found it very interesting that all three countries embraced Halloween so differently, and I guess that’s where my article started from 🙂

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